Straggling in late and from all directions on a recent evening, members of the Arlington Tigers, and a few folks who just wanted to play a little soccer, gathered at a community park in suburban Virginia.
Just one more week for practice. Then July 19, the Tigers, would board a bus to New York City to compete in the Street Soccer USA National Open Cup Championship.
On July 20, they would join Street Soccer USA teams made up of homeless and formerly homeless athletes from all over the country. At these games, players vie for victory and perhaps a place on the US National team that will go on to represent America in the 48-nation Homeless World Cup. Players dream of more basic things as well: stable housing, decent jobs, better lives.
The nonprofit Street Soccer USA aims to help them, building teamwork, sportsmanship and job readiness skills through play.
On this recent evening, Tigers coach Sarah Morse arrived on the scene with a load of equipment: jerseys, shorts, socks, cleats, soccer balls, goals and cones. Greeting most players by name or nickname, she worked to make each man feel valued and welcome.
Then the Tigers began with their usual warm-ups; running around the makeshift field Morse set up with neon cones behind the baseball diamonds of the park. Next came stretching and some touch work. Then, finally, the men got to play. The Tigers are sponsored by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), a nonprofit that serves Arlington area’s homeless population. But they can also count on support from a growing number of community volunteers.
“Most people come once a week, but there are a lot of new folks,” said Morse, who works for A-SPAN.
This year will mark the young team’s second National Cup journey.
Only two men present at the recent evening practice went to New York for last year’s Cup. One of them was Dalitso Kumtumanji, 47, from Malawi, who grew up playing the sport.
“I’m from Africa, so that’s the game,” he said with a smile. Kumtumanji’s favorite position is defender, but street soccer is played in teams of four against four on small custom-built courts so each player must take on all positions.
During the Cup, teams are allowed to bring up to eight players, so that during the games, they can be subbed out, but last year, the Tigers only had five players. Because of their lack of substitutes, Kumtumanji said the men grew tired quickly. “There were too many games- one game after another,” he said.
Then too, the team only practices from spring until the fall. When the A-SPAN emergency shelter opens in the winter, Morse has other duties that take her away from the Tigers.
Still, she hopes to find a way to help the team continue to evolve.
“Hopefully this winter we’ll get into an indoor team,” noted Morse. Then, her attention turned toward the cup. She noted that the North Carolina, New York and Minneapolis teams would be the ones to beat.
Look for coverage of the Cup in the next issue of Street Sense or follow it
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